The Value of Going Outside

While there have been many opposing viewpoints of the where and when, there is no doubt that being outdoors promotes health in a variety of meaningful ways. The Outdoor Industry Association’s Outdoor Foundation recently released their latest Outdoor Participation Report, which showed that only 50.5% of the U.S. population participated in outdoor recreation at least once a year. Unfortunately, the report highlights an alarming trend that just under half the U.S. population does not participate in outdoor recreation at al.

The report, available here, also highlighted the following troubling trends:

  • Less than 20 percent of Americans recreated outside at least once a week.
  • The number of “moderate” participants (those who engaged in outdoor activity at least 10 days per year ) has fallen nearly 2%.
  • Americans went on one billion fewer outdoor outings in 2018 than they did in 2008.

Even before the pandemic, there has been a strong trend toward close-to-home recreation. The report indicates that of the people who report they participate in outdoor activity, 63 percent report they go outside within 10 miles of their home, with 35% traveling between 1-10 miles. With social distancing guidelines recommending visiting parks within walking distance to avoid congested parking lots, the need for more parks is even more evident.

If the majority of people who are active stay within 10 miles of home, then certainly ensuring an outdoor park or recreation area within that distance is one way to help increase participation. A new program in Los Angeles, operated by a collective called Free Lots Angeles, is helping to do just that, by allowing neighborhood residents to turn vacant city lots in their area into parks or gardens. This issue’s Project Spotlight also highlights a Trust for Public Land project that created a park within walking distance for over 10,000 nearby residents. New York City, Atlanta, Washington, DC, and Chicago have all transformed unused beltways, railroads, and unused land into parks to help provide recreation opportunities where none existed. Many other new programs are on the horizon. As we collectively learn from this year’s extraordinary circumstances, we can certainly agree that creating more spaces for people to go outside is beneficial for us all.

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